Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #39  (original pub. date, Lion Magazine, March 1995)


On a Scale of One to Ten, How Much Thought Did I Really Give to This?

I got this book advert in my junk mail the other day:

T
he logic now revolutionizing the way complex problems are solved is called "fuzzy logic". Unlike traditional logic, which forces us to make sharp, artificial distinctions, fuzzy logic recognizes that most things are best described on a sliding scale. For example, suppose Fred is 5' 11' tall. Does he belong to a set of tall men? Traditionally, something is either a member of a set (with a truth value of 1) or it is not (with a truth value of 0). If we arbitrarily take "tall" to mean greater than 5' 10'', Fred is a member of the set. In contrast, fuzzy logic permits partial membership in the fuzzy set. All men are tall to a certain degree. For instance, Bob (5'9'') is 0.2 tall, Fred (5'11") is 0.6 tall, and Jon (6'2") is 0.8 tall… Fuzzy logic was invented in 1964 by Lotfi Zadeh, head of the electrical engineering department at the University of California at Berkeley. What does all this mean to the average beer drinker?…

The part about "average beer drinker" got my attention, so I felt obliged to share it with other average beer drinkers out there though I'm not too sure how one calculates 'average' using fuzzy logic. In any event, on a sliding scale, or even a bathroom scale, I am a solid unfuzzy perfect one-point-oh beer drinker and, thus, qualified to hold forth about the merits of this "new-fangled logic". I put quotation marks around "new-fangled" because they happen to be conveniently located on my keyboard and look neater than #'s and *'s —and because, with all due respect, I was doing 'fuzzy logic' when Mr. big-shot electrical engineer, mathematician and logician Prof. Zadeh was still knee-high to a hypotenuse. I mean as long ago as the fourth grade. Back then, of course, we called it "wrong answers," but I am delighted to see that, once gain, history and science have caught up with me.


It reminds me of the old ditty:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair
If Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair,
Then Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was he?
Now, if we take "fuzzy" to mean anything more than one follicle of hair per square centimeter of bear skin, it is unlikely that Fuzzy Wuzzy had absolutely no hair. Thus on a sliding scale of fuzzyness, Fuzzy Wuzzy could be said to be at least partially fuzzy, so I see Prof. Zadeh's point.

Popular culture has always used fuzzy logic. We have trouble with goes-into's and decimal points, though, so we use the elegantly simple one to ten scale, instead. In the film 10, starring the world's most beautiful flash in the pan, Bo Derek, the question was, "How beautiful is she on a scale of one to ten?" "Eleven," was the answer. She was, indeed, but, unfortunately, on the acting scale she hyperventilated just getting as far as two.

Certainly, using one to ten for everything would clear up some ambiguitites in language. "Bob is very short," we say. How short is he? Well, he's only five feet tall, we say. That makes no sense. We should say that he is five feet short. And so forth with such expressions as, How wide is the street? Well, it's only four feet narrow, we should say. Granted, there are middle-aging folks who claim that they are forty-five years "young," but that smacks of coyness and unwillingness to grow old in joyful anticipation of the dark cold maw of nothingness that awaits us all. And besides, is someone who is forty-five years young younger or older than someone who is forty-five years old? And what about those who are simply forty-five, not to mention forty-six or a great many other ages? A little fuzziness might help clear up the confusion.

Say, speaking of numbers, once upon a time, when The Ark finally came to rest in the mountains of Ararat, Noah told the animals as they came out of the boat two by two to go make more animals. The rabbits, elephants and cockroaches all had no problem —especially the rabbits and cockroaches. But there was this pair of snakes —adders, I believe— who just couldn't —well, you know— make snake-whoopee. So Noah had this great idea: he went out and chopped down a couple of trees, trimmed them and rolled them into camp. He them fashioned a table from the logs and told the snakes to slither up onto it and see if things went any better. Sure enough, it worked; pretty soon there were widdle snakies all over the place. It just goes to show you that even adders can multiply on a log table.

Prof. Zadeh, are you still there?

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